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Historic Cowboy Carousel may get revived

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BUFFALO, Wyo. — Arnette Tiller stepped onto the historic carousel and touched a fiberglass horse.

"This is Steamboat," she said.

Steamboat, the famous rodeo horse of the early 1900s that inspired the University of Wyoming's logo, is bucking.

There are many Steamboats on the carousel, along with several Comanches — named after a U.S. Army horse that survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 — and galloping ponies painted with American Indian symbols for battle.

The ponies salute a horse ridden by a Crow scout in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. After the battle, the pony returned to its Indian village without its rider, who had been killed.

Like that Indian pony without the rider, today, few people ride the fiberglass horses and ponies on the carousel.

The historical carousel is silent, rarely used and tucked into a building behind the Bozeman Trail Steakhouse.

But a Buffalo community group has big plans for it. They hear organ music. They see smiling adults and children climbing on and off the horses. They think, once moved downtown, those horses will breathe life into a nascent Artisan's Row.

The Cowboy Carousel Center Committee has made an offer on a property on Lobban Street, just off Main Street, that includes a historical building and a large yard for the Cowboy Carousel.

"The building will be an event center," Tiller said. "We're going to have galleries, classroom space, community events."

Tiller is a potter and the wife of former University of Wyoming football coach Joe Tiller.

After his coaching in Laramie, the Tillers moved to Indiana, where he coached at Purdue University. After retirement, the couple moved to Buffalo, where she has embraced the small-town atmosphere by fundraising and volunteering for the carousel committee.

She also opened Two Creeks Pottery Studio, where she teaches classes and works with clay. Buffalo's new brewery, Clear Creek Brewing Co., has commissioned her to make mugs.

Her husband has helped on the carousel committee, too, she said.

"He turned down a request to be on the school board and a request to be on the Y," she said. "He's tied up with football."

Joe has football season tickets for UW, Purdue and Montana State University, where he played in college.

As Arnette walks around downtown Buffalo, she seems to know everyone — and their father.

"It needs some restoration," she said about the carousel. "Emerson's dad quit running it because the gears were wearing."

The late Emerson Scott II purchased the Super 8 motel, which came with property on which he put an ice cream parlor, a gift shop, a Ferris wheel and the carousel. He purchased the carousel in 1987 from an Ocean City, N.J., boardwalk amusement park called Gillian's Fun Deck.

Spillman Engineering Corp. of North Tonawanda, N.Y., manufactured the carousel in 1925.

"It's sad to see it sitting here parked," said Scott's son, Emerson Scott III, who now owns it and will sell it to the Carousel Committee when it raises the money, which will be at least $800,000 to cover the purchase and restoration costs.

When Scott purchased the carousel from Ocean City, the horses had been sold separately as collectors' items.

For new horses, he turned to local woodcarver William Rogers Jennings.

"He wanted it to be a Western carousel and he wanted it to be a carousel unlike anywhere else," Jennings, now 70, said.

Wooden horses were necessary to create rubber molds from which the fiberglass horses would be born.

Jennings made three wooden horses of basswood from the linden tree — a Steamboat, a Comanche and an Indian pony. He meticulously researched details about the horses. For instance, the Comanche wears a military-issue bridle from the time and a 1858 McClellan saddle.

"The saddle is a tiny bit oversized to hold a child and a parent," Jennings said.

The wooden Comanche is in Jennings' studio and shop in downtown Buffalo, the Hitching Post Gallery.

He is happy about renewed interest in the carousel.

"I hope it gets done while I'm still here," he said.

Not quite two miles from the Bozeman Trail Steakhouse is Lobban Street, home of Potter's Depot, Crazy Woman Fine Art Gallery and Picks Saddle Shop. The Beutler's building, constructed in 1920, is empty.

Throughout the years, Beutler's has served as a feed store, an army surplus shop, a shipping company warehouse and a family home.

Inside the 6,000 square-foot building is a stone fireplace, wood floor, old light fixtures and doors from the former Idlewild Hotel in Buffalo. The place has character and could become a community center, Arnette said.

"I have to say it has more personality than the Hampton Inn," she added.

"Can't you imagine big employee dinners, family reunions, class reunions here?"

A sale is pending between the current owner and the carousel committee.

On the property outside the building, committee members want to build a stage for musical venues and an enclosure for the carousel. They have turned to the 14 students in Jon Gardzelewski's architectural design class at UW.

The students traveled to Buffalo to look at the property and are working alone or in groups. The challenge is complementing the style of the Beutler's building. The carousel should be seen from the street, but the building probably can't be entirely of glass because it's expensive and creates heating and cooling challenges.

After the Carousel Committee reviews the students' plans, it will choose one or combine a few good designs.

"From there, (the carousel committee) can decide what they want to do and hopefully continue working with one or two students to develop the scheme further as they get it built," Gardzelewski said.

When Tiller discusses "revitalizing downtown" with the Cowboy Carousel, Beutler's building and Artisan's Row, she knows she's not starting from scratch. Buffalo's downtown is notably historic and quaint.

But downtowns must constantly evolve to be relevant with residents and tourists, she said.

"If you look around Wyoming, the towns that are doing nothing are dry," she said. "The towns that are progressive and flourishing, like Lander and Powell, are moving forward. It's the old adage that you go back or you go forward."

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com